First Look: I’m in Love with the Villainess

First Glance: I’m in Love with the Villainess

Alternative title(s): Watashi no Oshi wa Akuyaku Reijou, WataOshi
Light Novel Adaptation by Platinum Vision
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

What if a girl reincarnated into an otome game fully of hot male singles ready to mingle, but she was actually gay?

Aqua’s verdict: Hardly Revolutionary

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and in the land of isekai, the one-eyed man is usually the man with the greatest elevator pitch. The premise of I’m in Love with the Villainess is such an elevator pitch, the kind of readily digestible spoof on a known formula that can be easily summarized in a single tweet for maximum mouth-to-mouth promotion.

Our main character, Rei, is a down-on-her-luck twentysomething cog in the corporate machine who one day finds herself spirited away from her lousy life and into the shoes of Rae, the main character of her favourite video game, Revolution. What twist does I’m in Love with the Villainess provide, on this formula that has been applied so often already, and to such noxious ends, that putting some kind of hare-brained spin on it is just about the only way to get any anime aficionado with actual standards to look your way? Well, it’s right there in the title — Rei’s sole reason for loving the game as much as she does is Claire François — the titular villainess — a minor mean girl character designed entirely to serve as an obstacle on the player’s path to marital bliss with her Prince Charming of choice. So, as soon as our plucky protagonist finds out she’s now no longer bound by the game’s programming, she begins pursuing Claire like there is no tomorrow.

 

This set-up makes I’m in Love with the Villainess an understandably popular light novel, even in the Western fandom. It uses a premise tailor-made for wish fulfilment to weave an unapologetically queer story about an unapologetically queer character single-mindedly chasing after the happiness many people like her are still denied in the real world. Unfortunately, this anime depicts Rei/Rae and her affection for Claire as just about as shallow as a puddle. The central romance is expressed entirely through hollow compliments, buffoonish antics and sexual harassment played entirely for laughs. Rei’s behavior is no different than that of the obnoxious, clingy stereotypes dime-a-dozen anime predominantly cart out to point and laugh at, and it’s not only grating, it’s utterly bizarre in the context of what I’m in Love with the Villainess wants to sell itself as. Asking the audience to take this Rei and her feelings for Claire seriously, as a celebration of queer joy, is like casting Kuroko Shirai as the main character of a lesbian coming-of-age drama. It’s trying to make a fighter jet run on AA batteries, or cook a three-star dish with nothing but a pack of instant ramen.

Existing fans of the franchise may be disappointed to read this. I do know for a fact that the original light novel is no stranger to some more serious introspection, seeing as the official English translation ended up in the news for trying to excise that stuff. Whether this anime adaptation is trying to do the same, or if these wrinkles to Rei’s character won’t show up until later, I don’t know, but the fact remains that she doesn’t make too great of an impression in this first episode. Combine that with a bland visual style, the subpar quality of the production and some creative choices that reveal an intent to focus on everything that makes this show like other anime, as opposed to everything that sets it apart, and you end up with something that is hardly revolutionary. In the end, I’m in Love with the Villainess might be enough to satisfy people just looking for a yuri fix, but I believe we deserve better.

 

Iro’s verdict: Reincarnated as a Parasocial Stalker

Put every single “reincarnated into a high society magic school otome game what has a villainess ojou character in it” trope into a glass with a dose of “we have one joke and by god we’re going to use it” and shake until combined; serve with a lily garnish. The show wants me to buy into this as some kind of cute yuri romance, but consider the implications: the adult protagonist has obsessively studied the personal life of someone they’ve never met (and arguably participated in grooming; the show implies that her fanfics taking place post-game are so accurate to character that they may as well be prophetic) and then effectively gone back in time to stalk and harass the object of her worship while they’re still a minor. But it’s okay, because they’re both girls! I’m told the source material acknowledges that this is fundamentally unhealthy behavior that paints queer people in a negative light, but the premiere also doesn’t disabuse the notion that it’s going to keep doing exactly what it’s doing because the audience is supposed to find it endearing. We call that trying to have your cake and eat it too.

 

Peter’s verdict: Is this a light novel adaptation or a manga adaptation?

I’ve been reading the novels of this for a while and as much as I really enjoyed episode 1 and seeing everyone in animation, I am a little concerned that the first impression may put some people off. As the story continues, Rae becomes much less aggressive and ridiculous and we start to understand these characters better. In particular, Rae has a pretty pivotal moment of internal reflection on how her behaviour mirrors that of gay entertainers on Japanese TV and the stereotypes they continue to push despite it harming the communities they themselves are a part of, yet she feels the need to continue being flamboyant effectively as a self-defence mechanism, which in reality is just internalised homophobia.

“Some people can’t live with their burdens without cracking wise about them”

Rae Taylor

Having discussed with Aquagaze who has been reading the manga, it sounds like many of the more serious elements present in the novels are absent from the manga, and it is a genuine concern that the anime may be adapting the manga first and foremost rather than going back to the novels directly. This will lead to Rae being seen as unapologetic and a fairly shallow character, something that was noted in the news coverage of the first edition of volume 1 of the English light novel when large chunks of text that focused on this self-reflection got removed. The publisher has since issued updated versions of the novels digitally and future physical editions will have the updated text, so if you read the novel and we’re put off, it might be worth revisiting it.

 

As for episode 1 of the anime, it’s a bit of a hard sell without this background knowledge. As a fan of the novels, it’s great seeing these characters animated, and I actually disagree with Aqua on it being bland, I actually really like the look of the show, and the opening theme is a banger composed by TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND, who you may know from the soundtrack to Witchcraft Works and ending songs to Osomatsu-san, among others. I’m excited to see more of this show as a fan, but I am wary to recommend it to newcomers this early on.

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